Russian Cultural Centre (RCC) contributes to social inclusion by managing Tallinn’s resident’s cultural and recreational activities, organising and providing leisure spending possibilities, sustaining and developing of folk culture. Located on the border of the City Centre and Northern Tallinn districts, RCC was founded as a municipal institution in 2001. It functions as a Russian parallel to the Estonia CC ‘Salme’. When examined separately, both ‘Salme’ and RCC can be seen as ethno-linguistically segregative institutions that do not facilitate the encounter of the two main ethno-linguistic communities of Tallinn on the one hand, but taken together they both contribute to maintain the ethno-cultural diversity of Tallinn by allowing to develop various mainly language based cultural activities. As the CC ‘Salme’, RCC also receives basic funding from the city. In addition donations can be made (RCC statute, 2013).
RCC’s development to an institution as it is today has been a long process. During the 1990s, Estonian society was undergoing dramatic changes: Russians who used to be the majority ethnic group in the former Soviet Union became an ethnic minority group (about a third of the population) in Estonia. The image of the institution was not very good at that time—together with the cultural function, some shady activity was carried out, even shootings occurred, but “those were the times of change.” For these reasons, the centre was seldom visited by Estonians. Regarding the image, much has changed during the last two decades. RCC’s activities today are very strongly bound by different groups, clubs, choirs, ensembles, etc. In addition to cultural activity training courses, e.g. for Russian school teachers, and lectures in different fields, e.g. economy, are provided. This way, RCC contributes to the social mobility of the Russian-speakers living in Tallinn. Rooms are also rented out for concerts and performances. Since the building itself is a landmark and has undergone renovation, the number of visitors has grown.
The goal of RCC in Northern Tallinn, Tallinn and Estonia is to bring together various forms of Russian (or Russian-speakers’) culture and to provide a possibility to cultivate them, thus creating an environment open to the Russian-speaking population. The target audience is comprised of all who are interested in Russian culture as the language of communication in RCC is Russian. The stakeholders are all who participate in different activities: the city government, Estonian Ministry of Culture, event organisers, tourists and visitors. Both CC ‘Salme’ and RCC represent the Soviet-era attitude of how the culture should be organised – all activities are carried out in one building where the necessary equipment and rooms are provided as opposed to fragmented target groups in different locations in case of many other cultural institutions.
It is complicated to evaluate to what extent the RCC’s action fosters social cohesion, e.g. to overcome social distance between two ethno-linguistic groups in Tallinn, and to what extent segregation and segmentation in leisure activities perpetuates social distance. Although culture in itself is potentially a unifying backbone of society, many studies on leisure segregation in Estonia (Mooses, 2014; Silm et al., 2013; Kamenik and Tammaru, 2014) show that segregation in cultural activities is inherent to multicultural societies. Within the RCC, events that bring together the Estonian and the Russian-speaking communities has become more common recently. Even Estonian events have started to appear more often in RCC, but they are of a more commercial nature and result from suitable venue availability, e.g. the venue is s very well suited for various theatre performances and concerts. This has also started to bring a larger Estonian audience to Russian shows.
The activities in RCC are not directed on social mobility per se, but they still have an influence on social mobility. For example, it offers possibilities to take part in hobby activities for socially less advantaged children; artists are free to exhibit their works on the hall walls; RCC also provides several training courses with a reasonable price. Such compliance encourages one to be more self-confident and to set higher goals in one’s life.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Cultural diversity is seen as a positive aspect of life: “Society cannot become homogeneous or one-sided.” RCC tries to provide as many different opportunities as possible for enriching the cultural life of ethnic Russians and other Russian-speakers. It could be seen from both points of view—on the one hand it even separates two ethno-linguistic groups in Estonia, but on the other it maintains the cultural diversity in the city.
Although Estonians have found their way to RCC, it still remains mainly an institution that develops bonding capital between the Russian-speakers. But Russian-speakers are ethnically quite diverse, as Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Armenians, Georgians, Azerbaijani, Moldovans, etc., all of those speaking mainly Russian as a mother tongue, are engaged in RCC. Potentially, if the discourse of integration develops the way we have experienced during the last decade, from an assimilationist to a multicultural approach, the possibilities for building bridging capital via RCC and CC ‘Salme’ are remarkable—from strictly separated institutions towards places of encounter for both Estonian-language and Russian-language based ethnic communities. Both have the potential to develop into centres where high level opportunities for fostering cultural diversity are offered for everybody, thus enriching the cultural landscape of Tallinn. So today, diversity could be understood as creating diverse cultural services for Estonian-speakers and Russian-speakers, but also has the potential to lessen social distance between two ethno-linguistic group’s in the future through facilitating joint festivals, working groups or other activities.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The main external factor of success is the present government policy. Both the current city policy and national policy take care of the rights and opportunities of the Russian-speaking minority. Thus, the current situation favours the activity of RCC. However, according to the vice director of RCC, this might change unexpectedly. Another success factor is the open-mindedness of RCC’s mangers. As mentioned earlier, the image of RCC has undergone fundamental changes since the 1990s, which are largely the result of the decisions made by the managers, e.g. providing training courses, renting out the venue for different events, thereby opening up RCC for larger numbers of people from different backgrounds. Even though the activities are still mainly in Russian, Estonians have made their way to RCC as well.
Ethnic minorities who share the Russian language have established institutions to organise their cultural activities and to maintain their identity. RCC is one important constituent part of this infrastructure, an organisation that fosters Russian culture in Estonia. Its main innovation is to mingle the diversity of Russian-speaking ethnic groups in the city by enabling wider cultural services for people with an immigration background (1st to 3rd generation). With CC ‘Salme’ and RCC we can identify two institutions with originally the same idea that cultural activities should be organised from the top-down on an ethno-linguistic basis. RCC, while keeping the traditional framework in mind, tries to be open-minded and find new and innovative ways of how to make their services more approachable for different groups. According to the representative of RCC diversity is important and should always be present, whereas the contribution of CC ‘Salme’ on diversity is focused on keeping traditional Estonian cultural activities active in the city.